Survivor returned after an 18-month hiatus with a new season last fall – and no small amount of controversy. The new Survivor had a lot more twists, a strong focus on diversity, and an odd new editing style that largely hid the show’s first female winner in four years. It was frustrating, but also fascinating. In some ways it was the best of Survivor – giving us new stars like Shantel, Ricard, and Tiffany. In others, it felt like a completely different show and one where the game played the contestants – with two twists, the ridiculous hourglass twist and the do-or-die roulette, being among the game’s lowest moments in twenty years.
Now, coming on the heels of a controversial Celebrity Big Brother season, we’re doing it again. Survivor 42 was filmed back-to-back with 41, so there have been a few adjustments on production’s side but the contestants don’t know any more than last season’s. The cast seems a little more balanced than 41’s while still having the same sense of diversity, and the game as a whole feels fresh. I didn’t do a cast preview this year because a little too much was out in the spoilerverse, but I’ll give my first impressions on this season’s cast in the power rankings after recapping the premiere.
And speaking of which, it was a packed one. After the requisite intros, we got down to the marooning challenge as the three new tribes competed to win supplies and flint. But there was a twist – the first of many in this game – as the contestants chosen for the second leg had the chance to win an advantage. Drea, Hai, and Lindsey got the lucky draw, and if they delayed long enough to complete a task together, they would win amulets that each gave them power. The twist was, the amulets gained power when there were fewer in the game – three amulets gave everyone an extra vote, two changed it to a steal-a-vote, and one transformed it into an idol. That put these three in a prisoner’s dilemma, as they now knew a secret about the others – but were incentivized to vote each other out.
Ultimately, Ika won the challenge and left the other tribes to try to win the flint in a secondary challenge back at camp – and the news got worse for Vati, as nerdy cancer survivor Daniel managed to dislocate his shoulder in a fall. It was popped back in by the on-site medic and he stayed in the game, but it cast a pall over the first challenge. It would not be the only time an uncomfortable realness settled over the game, either, but more on that later in this article.
This was a two-hour Survivor premiere, which meant we got a lot of tribe dynamics – at least on most of the tribes. Vati had an interesting start, as they had to figure out whether to do the physical challenge or the puzzle challenge to earn flint. This time it would only be one person filling out the jug of water, and retired firefighter Mike – the oldest contestant in the cast – quickly realized he’d be singled out for it and miss valuable bonding time. He successfully convinced the tribe to do the puzzle challenge, which they solved with the help of his ally Jenny, and the tribe seemed to be off to a strong start.
The same went for Taku, which was led by strongman and reality TV professional Jonathan. While he didn’t have as strong a hand in leading his tribe, they made the right decision – and while they bumbled a little in the process, they also came to the right conclusion. Overall, this tribe was sort of out of focus, with the exception of hilariously over-the-top divinity student Maryanne – who may be the most excited contestant in Survivor history – and Jackson. The 48-year-old southern man is the first out trans contestant to ever play Survivor, and he explained his past in a heartbreaking spotlight segment that was one of the most raw and honest moments still on the show.
Which made it hurt all the more the next day when Probst rolled up on Taku beach. The show tried to be transparent, but it still felt a bit sketchy – apparently there had been an issue with Jackson’s medication that either he hadn’t fully disclosed or the show didn’t account for. Withdrawal from it was causing him to dehydrate rapidly, and the medical team didn’t think it was safe to have him on the show. So he was pulled after a tear-jerking farewell and became the first person to leave Survivor 42. A lot of people have questioned how the show handled it, and I for one am hoping he gets a second shot if it’s safe down the line.
Then there was Ika, who looked like they had it together in the first challenge – and proceeded to completely fall apart immediately after. The amount of scheming they did in this first episode was hilarious, with the tribe first splitting down age lines – with nerdy Zach, flighty Tori, and young veteran Swati bonding, while no-nonsense Rocksroy, pageant coach Romeo, and scheming Drea all seemed to bond over the “kids” not being willing to work around camp. However, it wasn’t long before Rocksroy’s leadership tactics got him in trouble, and Tori was seen as suspicious for looking for an idol.
The first summit of the game gave three contestants the chance to win an extra vote, and the tribes sent Drea, Maryanne, and Jenny. While Jenny and Maryanne played it safe, Drea claimed her second advantage in the same episode and quickly proved herself a force to be reckoned with.
But given how badly her tribe was doing at cohesion, it wasn’t a surprise when the first challenge – with the contestants participating in an obstacle course to get puzzle pieces, and then assembling a circular puzzle – didn’t go well for them. Vati and Taku dominated for much of the challenge, and by the time Zach and Swati got to the puzzle, they were way behind and unable to catch up. They were heading to tribal council, and Tori wasted zero time trying to blame Zach for costing them the challenge.
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a tribal council get this chaotic in week one of a Survivor season. There were no less than three targets, with Drea wanting to flip and get Rocksroy out for being too bossy, while Tori and Zach targeted each other. Romeo and Zach seemed to be aligned, but the vote kept flipping and that made everyone involved deeply paranoid. It all culminated in a nasty face-off at tribal council as Tori and Zach accused each other of lying, Zach played his Shot in the Dark – and made history as he became the first person voted off unanimously, since he couldn’t vote. Zach was likely partially a victim of the success of fellow Survivor nerds Cochran and Adam, but his awkwardness likely led him to become a scapegoat early.
And so we’re off! With sixteen contestants left, I’ll try to break down their places in the tribe and their overall chances to win the game below.
- Jonathan – The strongman was quiet in week one, but he basically carried the tribe on his back in both challenges. While that doesn’t always make you safe in this game, he’s this tribe’s only powerhouse at the moment and can likely coast to the merge.
- Lindsay – With an advantage in her pocket and easily the tribe’s strongest woman, she’d need to screw up in a big way to become the tribe’s first target.
- Omar – This eccentric veteriniarian came off as savvy in the first episode and didn’t seem like a a liability, but he’ll need to find the right alliance. He comes off as a gamer, and that could make him a target – but the preview shows him bonding with Jonathan.
- Maryanne – This is a very high four, because the tribe seems to absolutely like her. But she’s exciteable and very emotional, and she’ll have to get some more chill if she wants to contend in this game long-term.
- Marya – I don’t think anyone’s made themselves a target on this tribe yet, but she’s the oldest woman in the game and showed some weakness in the first challenge. She seems insecure, and that could lead the tribe to make her a consensus boot if they smell weakness.
- Drea – This tribe is a mess, but whatever they do next, she’s likely to be at the center of it. She’s a hardcore player with two idols in her pocket, and she’s very likely to be able to guide the tribe in her direction.
- Swati – She doesn’t really have any weaknesses or firm alliances yet, and I think she could easily find herself a solid alliance.
- Rocksroy – While he seems to rub people the wrong way, he is the tribe’s biggest bruiser, and I think they’ll need some strength for a while.
- Romeo – As Zach’s closest ally, he’s sort of floundering right now and will need to find himself a new ally quickly. His best bet is to try to work with Drea and Swati.
- Tori – She survived this week despite coming off as a suspicious trainwreck. The only way she’ll do it again is if she’s very useful to Drea’s plans.
- Mike – The trailer is trying to make us think this 57-year-old ex-firefighter from Jersey is in trouble. I don’t buy it. This episode showed him firmly in control of the tribe and leading them to a win. Plus, he’s one of the strongest people in the game and showed great survival skills. If there’s a clear long-gamer in this show, it’s him.
- Hai – The charming Vietnamese immigrant got off to a good start with winning an amulet, and he seems to be fitting in well on the tribe. We didn’t see as much of him, so it’s hard to talk about his long-term prospects yet, but there’s no reason to think he won’t succeed.
- Jenny – As the oldest woman on the tribe, she might be a target – but she’s already shown to have bonded with Mike, and her puzzle skills are strong. I don’t think she’s in immediate danger.
- Chanelle – Sort of out of focus during the first episode, we don’t know much about her yet. She seems like she’ll have a decent social game, but she could be one challenge misstep away from trouble.
- Lydia – This eccentric young artist sticks out like a sore thumb on the game-minded Vati. I could easily see a scenario where she annoys the practical Mike and becomes a consensus boot, but she’s been playing decently so far.
- Daniel – Oy. Everyone loves the guy, sure, but that doesn’t make his game any stronger. He’s injured, high-strung, and the preview shows him taking offense to something Mike does and immediately barging around the tribe demanding people vote him off. Maybe he and Zach can bond in Ponderosa.